Procrastination is a common challenge that many of us face in our daily lives. It is the act of delaying or avoiding activities or responsibilities, often opting for short-term comfort over achieving long-term goals. In business. procrastination can hinder growth, productivity, and overall success. However, by employing effective strategies, we can overcome procrastination and achieve our goals.
I will explore various techniques and methods to combat procrastination and foster a more proactive approach towards achieving your personal and business goals. Before going further a note about terminology. I will use the term activity as a generic term to denote all working activities including actions, projects, strategies and tasks.
Understanding the root cause of procrastination
To effectively address procrastination, it is crucial to understand its underlying causes. Traditional thinking on this topic gives various reasons for procrastination such as fear of failure, lack of motivation, unclear goals and overwhelming tasks. While these may contribute, there is an even bigger reason.
Based on my many years of personal experience and observing many people in business, the biggest reason for not completing an activity is that the benefit of completing the activity is not greater than the perceived loss or pain of not doing it. As human beings, we fear and avoid pain more than the pleasure derived from success. So pain and loss are actually greater motivators, than pleasure and gain, generally speaking of course.
I will use a common situation from the SME environment to illustrate this. Most SME owners are aware that there is value in having a business plan, but when they think about the consequences of not having a plan, they perceive that the pain of not having a plan is less than the benefits of having one. Therefore the effort required is perceived to not be worthwhile, so they keep putting it off for another day and therefore, procrastinate.
So when we are confronted with a need to take action, this pain/pleasure analysis needs to be performed. Otherwise, there is a high probability that procrastination will set in, and the activity will never start, let alone be completed. If after considering whether or not to start an activity we decide that the anticipated pain or gain of not performing the activity, is less than the expected pleasure or benefit from doing it, then this is OK. At least we have considered the situation and made an informed decision to not proceed instead of deluding ourselves about it being worthwhile and setting ourselves up for probable failure.
Once we recognise that the outcome or benefit of the activity is worth the effort, then we can consider the strategies to help us move forward and complete, which I discuss below.
1. Set clear and realistic goals
One of the fundamental aspects of overcoming procrastination is setting clear, specific, and realistic goals. Vague or overly ambitious objectives can lead to a lack of direction and motivation. Breaking down long-term goals into smaller, achievable milestones provides a sense of progress and keeps us motivated throughout the journey.
Visualizing the success and benefits of completing the activity can serve as a powerful motivational tool. Creating mental images of achieving goals and envisioning positive outcomes can boost enthusiasm and determination.
2. Prioritise tasks with time management
Effective time management is crucial for combating procrastination. Create a to-do list, prioritize tasks based on their importance and deadlines, and allocate specific time blocks to tackle them. Tools like the Pomodoro Technique, where work is divided into intervals with short breaks, can enhance focus and productivity. Choose a style that suits you and your personal working style.
3. Delegate and automate
Delegate and automate activities where possible to free you up for the more important activities. The focus of this strategy should be routine and non-urgent activities such as filing. Consider eliminating activities if they are of low value to you and your business.
4. Develop a proactive mindset
Cultivating a proactive mindset involves taking responsibility for one’s actions and decisions. Instead of waiting for motivation to strike, take the initiative to start tasks and build momentum. Acknowledging that motivation often follows action can be a powerful catalyst to overcome procrastination. So, sometimes it’s best to just start and do something, which may then spur your momentum. The planning and time management can come later after some progress has been made at least.
5. Identify and eliminate distractions
In today’s digital age, distractions are abundant. Identifying personal distractions and finding ways to minimize or eliminate them is crucial. Utilise productivity tools, apps, or website blockers to maintain focus and create a conducive environment for completing tasks. Some strategies include turning off the new email alert and putting your mobile on silent while you focus on the activity at hand.
6. Develop positive habits
Forming positive habits can aid in overcoming procrastination. Establish a daily routine that incorporates productive habits such as exercise, meditation, or journaling. Consistent habits reinforce discipline and provide a structured framework for personal growth.
7. Embrace failure as part of the process
Fear of failure can be a significant factor contributing to procrastination. However, it is essential to recognize that failure is a natural part of the learning process. Embracing failure as an opportunity to learn and grow can reduce the fear associated with taking action. And most importantly, forgive yourself when you fail. After all, you are only human and it ok to fail sometimes.
8. Seek accountability and support
Enlisting the help of an accountability partner or joining a support group such as a business networking group can provide valuable encouragement and motivation. Sharing progress and setbacks with others fosters a sense of responsibility and commitment to stay on track.
9. Develop resilience
Finally, develop resilience, which is the ability to bounce back from setbacks and challenges. Developing resilience helps us persevere in the face of obstacles, which is crucial for maintaining motivation and overcoming procrastination. When your activity is not going according to the plan, don’t let it stop you. Stop and have a think about the benefit of completing the activity, as well as the pain of not completing it to help spur you on.
10. Reward yourself
Celebrate small victories along the way to achieving your goals. Rewarding yourself for completing tasks or reaching milestones reinforces positive behaviour and provides an incentive to continue progressing.
Overcoming procrastination requires a combination of self-awareness, discipline, and effective strategies. By understanding the root cause of procrastination as described in this article we can understand the initial hurdle we need to jump. Once we have decided that the expected benefit from completing an activity is worthwhile, (because the pain of not doing it will be even greater) we can then focus on the strategies that will help us complete the activity.
A final note. Sometimes, procrastinating doing an activity may highlight that it’s not worthwhile because your business it has not been adversely affected, or the circumstances have changed since you identified the importance of that activity. We have all experienced this situation times. When this happens, cross that activity off your list and focus on something more important and valuable.